Alan Watts’ unique ability to understand and assess Eastern Philosophies for the Western mind is a valuable asset to those who follow a Zen lifestyle. Without his writing and those of D. T. Suzuki, from whom Watts borrowed much of his insight, it would be difficult to grasp the true significance of the practice, if we can even call it a practice. I prefer to call it Mind—Being—in the moment.
The following is an excerpt from one of his many spoken lectures; this one addressing the shortcomings of the Western practice of Zen, and Asian thought in general, broadcast from radio station KPFA in Berkeley, California on April 17, 1955. -Pc
“The important thing is simply to begin—anywhere, wherever you are.”
In this broadcast, Mr Watts explains:
“We want to enjoy ourselves, and fear that if we forget ourselves there will be no enjoyment.”
He goes on to give an example with the Western Proverb:
“A watched pot never boils.”… if you try to watch your mind concentrate, it will not concentrate. And if… you begin to watch for the arrival of some insight into reality, you have stopped concentrating.”
It is a paradox. If we try to concentrate we are not concentrating, but watching ourselves trying.
“Real concentration is… a rather curious and seemingly paradoxical state, since it is at once the maximum of consciousness and the minimum of ego-feeling… The only way to enter into this state is precipitately—without delay or hesitation, just to do it…”
This is why it goes against the grain in the West when we see the practice of Mindfulness taking the form of sitting for hours in the Lotus position. In Asia, the only people who do this are monks. The general population go about their daily lives unselfconscious, without acting out, despite being taught the concepts of Buddhism, and in Japan Zen, from childhood on.
“I ordinarily avoid discussion of all the various kinds of Asian meditation techniques, such as Yoga… For I am inclined to feel that for most Westerners, these are not aids but obstacles to concentration. It is not… natural for us to assume the lotus posture and go through all sorts of spiritual gymnastics. So many Westerners who do this kind of thing are so self-conscious about it, so preoccupied with the idea of doing it that they never really do it at all. For the same reason, I am rather leery of too much Zen—especially when it means importing all the purely incidental apparatus of Zen from Japan, all the strictly technical formalities, and all the endless and pointless discussion about who has or hasn’t attained satori, or about how many koans one has solved, or how many hours a day one sits in za-zen... This sort of thing is not Zen or Yoga; it is just a fad, just religiosity, and is precisely self-consciousness and affectation rather than unselfconsciousness and naturalness.”
The crux is one should arrive at a state of Zen spontaneously, not practiced but freely, in each moment attaining Satori.
“If, however, you can really do the thing itself… if you can learn to wake up and concentrate at the drop of a hat… [you] can acquire the special kind of relaxed concentration and clear-sightedness which is essential… If you have to import it from Asia, you do not have it at all.”
And he completes the circle with the following.
“… the important thing is simply to begin—anywhere, wherever you are. If you happen to be sitting, just sit. If you are smoking a pipe, just smoke it. If you are thinking out a problem, just think.”
Alan Watts The Finger and the Moon
from the collection edited by Mark Watts
Become What you Are